One Minute Book Reviews — Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I’ve been waiting for this one for a long time from the library, as it’s a pretty hot title right now.

Zombies!

What we have here is Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, retold faithfully scene-for-scene and in similar language by Seth Grahame-Smith — except that there are zombies.

Just the high-concept is enough to make you want to run out and read it, isn’t it?

Elizabeth and Darcy are still dealing with snubs and misunderstandings and wayward sisters, but also the walking dead. Lizzy is a China-trained zombie slayer who kicks ass on a regular basis and is pretty hard in spirit, as well. Darcy is her equal with a sword at taking down the undead, and also, you may recall, pretty dreamy in spite of being rather proud.

They meet at balls, they exchange witticisms, then they slay some zombies. It’s a living.

This book is the very epitome of fluffy, but it was a quick, fun read. If you’re a fan of Austen, it’s almost a must read. The zombie encounters are both hilarious and exciting, and most suprising of all — actually seem to fit in the story. It’s amazing how quickly I accepted the fact that zombies were wandering around the fringes of 19th century England. I absolutely didn’t notice when the story veered away from a comedy of manners into zombie battling territory — it was seamless and fully integrated. The militia camped nearby finally has some actual work to do; all those boring passages of people travelling from one location to another are now nicely spiced up by zombie encounters.

Although the book is mostly just about having fun with the classics, I have to admit that there were places where it actually improved on the original novel, at least for me. Having Elizabeth be a cold-hearted killer shed quite a bit of light on her character — what makes her different than the other girls, what makes her catch Darcy’s eye, and what her own weaknesses of character are that must be overcome. Seeing Lydia throw away her calling as a zombie slayer in favour of frivolous flirting makes the whole business of boy-chasing seem so sad and wasteful — probably just as Jane Austen actually intended.

Not that this is in any way a deep book (despite the hilarious mock-book-club discussion questions at the end). It was fun, it was funny, and I’m buying a copy for my teenaged niece for Christmas, but that’s about the end of it.

One other thing: the cover art freaked my kids out. I had to cover it with post-it notes.

This book has been so popular on the bestseller lists that it’s already inspired a bunch of copycats — Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is already out, for example. I’ll be staying away from those in favour of something a little more serious (I hear Sea Monsters isn’t that good, anyway). But for a weekend at the cottage, this book will entertain without exactly keeping you up nights.

Grade: B+

One Minute Book Reviews: Olive Kitteridge

So after some initial excitement, I must say, my affection for the library is waning. The problem is that I don’t normally read a book within three weeks, so when I get a novel from the library, I feel a lot of pressure to read, read, read all the time, as fast as I can. It feels like homework, which really takes away from my enjoyment of the book. Most of the books I’ve requested have a waiting list, so renewing them is not an option — that means that if I don’t finish it within the three weeks, I’ll have to wait another few months to get it again if I want to find out how the book ends. Eeep.

However, I’m very happy that I did manage to (barely) make it through the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout:

In short, I loved this book. It’s a series of short stories, all connected by the presence of Olive Kitteridge, an older lady in a small coastal town. Some of the stories feature Olive as a main character; in others, she just passes through or is only mentioned. Still, her presence is always felt.

The stories mostly centre on couples and older people as they reflect back on their lives. Old love affairs rear their ugly heads; old passions die out and fade away. Parents struggle to relate to their grown children and to build a relationship with their grandchildren; friends wonder if they ever really knew each other. It’s exactly the kind of subject matter that appeals to me — everyday people trying to make sense of their lives.

I think I enjoyed every single story in this book, which is very rare for me. In fact, I almost never read short story collections because I much prefer novels. This book reads like a novel, though — all the characters live in the same town and pass through each others lives, and it all fits together like a puzzle. It just feels like the focus of the book shifts gently from one household to another, fitting into the same tone and style.

And of course, there is Olive herself to tie it all together. I adore Olive. She’s tough and unemotional (to a fault) and strong. She’s also stubborn, angry, and sometimes mean. Above all, she’s real. I couldn’t wait to find out more about her and although I liked stopping in with the other families in town, I got unreasonably excited when I figured out that the next story was centred on Olive. If they ever make a movie from this book, I insist they cast Tyne Daly in the role.

Elizabeth Strout is such a fantastic writer that I almost consider this book to be a guide to my own future. I felt such a kinship with these people, and such insight too into life with grown children.

I recommend it highly to everyone. In fact, I wish I owned a copy so I could lend it out; I’m leaving it on my Amazon wish list even though I’ve already read it. At the very least, all the readers on my Christmas list are getting a copy!

Rating: A

One Minute Book Reviews: Oscar and Lucinda

My second library book is Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey.

I know this post is called “one minute book reviews” but I’m afraid I may go over time a bit, due to SEVERE RANTING.

This book was so frustrating! It moves at a snail’s pace. I should have guessed I’d have trouble, as it is the 1988 Booker Prize winner. The Booker and I go way back, and we have quite the love-hate relationship. I often find the Bookers to be books with extremely beautiful poetry-prose, but books that are boring as poo. I’m afraid Oscar and Lucinda is not that different.

I mean, the book is called Oscar and Lucinda, and yet we don’t meet Lucinda until 80 pages into a 500 page book. And what is Oscar doing for those first 80 pages? He spends almost all of it agonizing over whether or not to leave his church for a new faith. AGONIZING, trust me, is the correct word.

Then we meet Lucinda, and her story advances at a similar pace. The two main characters don’t even meet each other until page 230. That’s almost halfway through the book!

I almost gave up on the book at the halfway mark, but then I remembered it had been made into a movie, so I went to see how they had cast it. While at the IMDB I read the summary for the movie and found out that the central part of the film is a bet made between Oscar and Lucinda about moving a glass church out into the outback. Like, wow, something was actually going to happen in this book? When, exactly? Maybe in the last 10 pages or so?

SHEESH.

Here’s what happens for the first 250 pages.

It’s the mid-1800s. Oscar decides to leave his father’s faith to become an Anglican minister. He can’t afford school, so he turns to betting on horse races to make ends meet. Lucinda is raised in the Australian outback by her mother to be a woman of Modern Ideas. Her mother dies and she gets a huge inheritance at age 18, which she uses to buy a glass factory in Sydney. While in Sydney, she learns to play cards for money with her friends and likes it.

Then, they meet. Then, they spend 25 AGONIZING pages AGONIZING over whether or not they should actually talk to each other. SHEESH.

And now, you can skip the first half of the book.

The really frustrating thing is that the prose is really lovely, and the story is told in a whimsical fashion that I would have really loved if I were reading this book in high school or university. Take this passage, for example, about Lucinda’s decision to buy the glass factory:

It is better to think about the purchase as a piano manoeuvred up a staircase by ten different circumstances adn you cannot say it was one or the other that finally got it there – even the weakest may have been indispensable at that tricky turn on the landing.

Or this quote, about Oscar trying to hide his fear of the ocean on a boat:

Although he did not promise he would accompany them up on to the deck, neither did he indicate that he could not, and whilst a court of law would declare he had not misled the party as to his intention, the courts of heaven would not be so easily deceived.

See? Awesome writing. Peter Carey really knows his way around a metaphor.

But JESUS, get to the point already, would you dude?

And while you’re at it, could you add on a more depressing and angering ending? Oh, you couldn’t, because you already found the MOST DEPRESSING AND ANGERING ending EVER? I see.

I think this book is Great Literature, but not really what I need in my life right now. I need books that are fun and fast moving, with more straightforward prose that I can pick up and put down 20 times a day. I can only read in short bursts between other activities, and I need to be able to follow what the heck is going on — and at the same time, if I can only read 10 pages, it would be nice if SOMETHING HAPPENED.

So, second library book recommendation: unfortunately, pass on it. Rating: C.

Incidently, the movie version stars Ralph Fiennes and a young unknown called Cate Blanchett, and apparently is charming, if a little confusing at times. If you’re interested in the story, I think I would have to go with the recommending the movie version instead.

One Minute Book Reviews: The House on Fortune Street

Usually when I finish a book that I’ve bought, I lend it out. I write my name in the front and bring it to poker, then I throw it in the ring and my gal pals fight over it like bridesmaids fighting over the bouquet. Eventually everyone gets a turn and then we can all discuss it.

Now that I’m Library Girl, though, I can’t share the books I’m reading. So I’ve decided to write some mini-reviews of the novels I’m checking out instead, to give them a little word-of-mouth action.

This week I’ve been reading The House On Fortune Street by Margot Livesey.

The owner of the house on Fortune Street is Abigail, an actress whose career is just starting to take off. She lives in the upper two floors of the house with her boyfriend, Sean; her best friend Dara lives in the apartment on the main floor. Sean is feeling lonely and angry at Abigail’s constant travelling and refusal to allow herself to be emotionally close to him. Meanwhile, Dara is struggling to connect with her father Cameron, who was absent from her life for many years after her parents’ bitter divorce, and also with her boyfriend Edward, who is still living with his ex-girlfriend and their daughter.

This kind of novel is right up my alley — everyday people struggling with everyday problems. The prose is very sparse, and I admit it was hard to get into at first — I felt emotionally removed from the action. By about page 40, though, everything clicked and suddenly I was engrossed. I grew to love the writing style; the matter-of-factness made every event, small or big, seem to carry the same weight, and indeed, it is exactly the point of the book that the smallest, most insignificant comment to one character can have an enormous impact on another.

The story is told in four sections, each from a different character’s point of view (Sean, Cameron, Dara, and Abigail). With each section we learn more about different parts of the story, and we get to know each person better. I loved this approach, although it does have its drawbacks — since Abigail is last to tell her story, for example, it’s hard to build sympathy for her in the early chapters, and it may be too late to have us like her by the end of the book.

Still, I really enjoyed this book. If I owned it, I would definitely take it to poker.

Overall rating: B+